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A special place in Hell

By G.D. Maxwell I was pretty choked a few years ago when the Pope admitted there really wasn’t a Hell. At least not a Dantesque Hell full of unimaginable, eternal tortures.
< P>By G.D. Maxwell

I was pretty choked a few years ago when the Pope admitted there really wasn’t a Hell. At least not a Dantesque Hell full of unimaginable, eternal tortures.

I never really believed in Hell but I was comforted to at least think there may be such a place, a final destination for the truly despicable people of the world to spend forever nattering at each other. It provided solace, if not closure, since I believe in Karma enough to try and avoid doing things for which I’ll eventually pay but not enough to be satisfied the people who really deserve payback will ever take it in the teeth.

I always visualized Hell as something like the worst apartment building I ever lived in. A dreadful place that was always too hot, smelled like an indescribable mix of pee, excrement, curry, stale tobacco smoke and wet dog, where the rooms were too small, the music too loud and too dreadful – think Yoko Ono’s Fly CD with a skip – and the company too reminiscent of all your bad habits and annoying tics amplified to bigger-than-life scale.

Such a Hell had specialized rooms reserved for people who’d spent their life committing the same sins against humanity. There was the Packaging Engineer Room where people who’d inflicted modern packaging on us spent eternity trying to open potato chip bags, hermetically-sealed stay-fresh cereal bags, shrink-wrapped compact discs, child-proof medicine caps and lids to pickle jars that require hydraulic pressure to screw open. These wretched souls cried in agony as they watched their last fingernail being ripped from its supporting flesh, their last tooth break off at the gum and their scissors finally dull and break just as the next shipment of impossible-to-open things they’d invented was dumped at their feet.

Next door, in the Label Removal Room, retail clerks glazed over as infinity stretched out before them, an infinity they’d spend trying to peel price and barcode stickers off things they’d affixed them to. Their plaintive cries fill the room as they try solvent after solvent hoping to find one that will get the gum residue off the crystal vase meant as a special gift for someone and still leave some flesh on their fingers. Their only hope reduced to that special day each year or two when they’re rewarded for their efforts and allowed to simply peel those annoying stickers off apples and peppers and then figure out what the heck to do with them.

I can’t tell you how often the only thought that’s kept me going on a hot summer afternoon was imagining there was a very large, very smelly room where automotive designers and engineers spent forever busting their knuckles trying to change spark plugs on an engine where you damn near have to pull it off its mounts to accomplish such a mundane repair. Or watching in resigned disgust as a rivulet of water runs onto the seat they’re about to occupy every time they open the car door.

So many rooms in my Hell. A whole wing filled with former Microsoft employees alone. A sub-Hell reserved for former CEOs, politicians and Washington drivers. Makes me all warm and fuzzy just to think about it.

I was renovating Hell this week, adding a new wing for a group of people I’ve been uncomfortable with for some time now but rarely had to engage personally. Corporate Communications Officers. PR hacks. Spinmeisters.

As a group, these loathsome creatures have debased language to the point of meaninglessness and reduced "communication" to sound-bites, talking-points and vacuous Messages. They’ve stripped the soul out of communication and nudged society ever-closer to an Orwellian Newspeak where black is white and wrong is right. Not satisfied to ruin commercial discourse, they’ve rendered political speech deceptive at best, dangerous at worst.

And I can only hope they rot in the new wing of Hell drivelling nonsense to each other until, well, until it freezes over.

My close encounter with the black hole of corporate nonspeak was compliments of a story assignment. I’ll spare you details. Let’s just say a nameless Scottish restaurant chain has signed on to be a sponsor of a nameless, successful spring festival at a resort municipality that shall also remain nameless. How’s that for opaque?

Having also signed on for a full-page ad for a nameless ski magazine I do a bit of writing for, the publisher of said magazine wanted a story about the whole nameless affair. "See if you can get a quote from someone at the nameless Scottish restaurant chain," said the magazine’s editor, whose name I might as well also leave out.

"I’m on it, boss," said I.

So I called the brilliant ringmaster who pulls the strings that make this nameless spring festival happen and said, "Hey Billy – name changed to prolong this façade – I need to speak with someone at the Scottish restaurant."

"They’d prefer to go through their agency," he said.

"Tell them this is just a puff piece, I’m just shilling for da man. And tell them if they don’t give me a human quote they’ll look like dorks." Such is the power of the word processor.

So I got a human, ancestry uncertain but probably not Scottish, and called him up. "Hi, I need a quote from you guys on how tickled you are to be associated with this unnamed spring mountain festival," I said in my least intimidating voice.

"Okay. What are your questions?" he answered, nervously.

"Ah… questions. Look, all I want you to say is how pleased you are to be a sponsor of the festival," I explained.

"Well, send me your questions and I’ll get back to you with answers."

"Look Sparky, this isn’t rocket science. All I want is a teeny, tiny soundbite. I’ll settle for a sentence fragment as long as I can attribute it to someone," I pleaded.

"I’ll get back to you on that," he dodged.

"Look, you’re pissin’ me off. This isn’t hard. You’re not going to say the wrong thing. Hell, I’ll write if for you if you want. I’ve got a deadline here!"

"I just have to run it by the marketing department."

"Do me a favour, will you. Reach inside your trousers and see if there are still any balls there."

"I’m just doing my job," he whined in civil-service tones.

"I don’t want a quote from your marketing department. I want a quote from a human being. I want a name to attribute it to. If I don’t get it, you and all your kilt-wearing corporate weeniebrothers are going to come out of this story wishing you were selling vacuums door-to-door instead of poisoning the human race with the unholy trinity of fat, salt and sugar." I ranted.


The quote came by e-mail some hours later. Pablum, and that’s giving pablum a bad name. But at least it had somebody’s name attached… may he rot in my new Corporate Communications Room in Hell.